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Old October 1 2009, 02:35 AM   #1
Rii
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Women and the generic masculine pronoun

So, English fails in not having a gender-neutral pronoun. "They" can be pressed into service in many cases, and most sentences can be rebuilt around "one" if one doesn't mind sounding like one has a stick up one's ass, but neither are perfect solutions and "he" continues to make its presence felt in cases where its referent could be either male or female.

I notice - or at least I think I notice, I haven't exactly run any controlled tests - that when I'm reading a text that uses "she" as the generic pronoun, it tends to slow me down, at least on the first instance. I think what's happening is that I'm aware that "he" is the "standard" choice, so when I encounter "she" a part of my mind asks why and considers possible explanations: gender of the author, context, etc.

What I'm not sure of, though, is to what extent my own gender affects this. Is the reason I'm able to process "he" faster than "she" purely a product of conditioning, or does the fact that I'm male have something to do with it as well?

Hence, I'm curious about how women deal with "he".

It's entirely possible that I'm simply imagining this discrepency, as on more than a few occasions after encountering the generic "he" I've thought "man, English sucks", which probably takes up as much processing time as the negotiation of "she" does.
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Old October 1 2009, 02:46 AM   #2
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

Interesting topic. I've never thought about this, having never felt a need to mention one person without including the gender... and if I did then I would just ignore the plural nature of "they."
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Old October 1 2009, 03:09 AM   #3
Rii
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

Mr. B wrote: View Post
Interesting topic. I've never thought about this, having never felt a need to mention one person without including the gender... and if I did then I would just ignore the plural nature of "they."
It's usually used when you're generalising to a class. Here's an example I was reading a few minutes ago which prompted this thread:

"Once the child feels safe again, she is free to play or explore the environment. The attachment figure thus becomes a safe base from which the child can explore and to whom he can periodically return for 'emotional refuelling'."

I didn't even notice the alternating pronoun until I was typing that up just now. "She" registered in my mind as something requiring consideration, however brief, whereas "he" obviously didn't.
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Old October 1 2009, 04:34 AM   #4
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

If I am writing I often use s/he to show that something could be referring to either sex. If I am speaking I tend to use they.
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Old October 1 2009, 06:32 AM   #5
OdoWanKenobi
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

How about the fact that is is acceptable to refer to a group of females as "guys" but a single "guy" can only be male?
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Old October 1 2009, 07:25 AM   #6
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

OdoWanKenobi wrote: View Post
How about the fact that is is acceptable to refer to a group of females as "guys" but a single "guy" can only be male?
Really, never knew you could refer to a group of females as 'guys'. But then again, I struggle to come up with a pronoun for females around 18-24. 'Women' makes them sound too old, yet 'girls' too young. Any suggestions?

BTW, I just say 'they' or 'one' less often when I need to use a pronoun and not specify gender.
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Old October 1 2009, 08:00 AM   #7
OdoWanKenobi
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

SilentP wrote: View Post
OdoWanKenobi wrote: View Post
How about the fact that is is acceptable to refer to a group of females as "guys" but a single "guy" can only be male?
Really, never knew you could refer to a group of females as 'guys'. But then again, I struggle to come up with a pronoun for females around 18-24. 'Women' makes them sound too old, yet 'girls' too young. Any suggestions?

BTW, I just say 'they' or 'one' less often when I need to use a pronoun and not specify gender.
It happens all the time. Often, people will greet a group of friends (regardless of gender) with "Hey, guys!"
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Old October 1 2009, 08:36 AM   #8
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

Rii wrote: View Post
Mr. B wrote: View Post
Interesting topic. I've never thought about this, having never felt a need to mention one person without including the gender... and if I did then I would just ignore the plural nature of "they."
It's usually used when you're generalising to a class. Here's an example I was reading a few minutes ago which prompted this thread:

"Once the child feels safe again, she is free to play or explore the environment. The attachment figure thus becomes a safe base from which the child can explore and to whom he can periodically return for 'emotional refuelling'."

I didn't even notice the alternating pronoun until I was typing that up just now. "She" registered in my mind as something requiring consideration, however brief, whereas "he" obviously didn't.
Using 'she' as a generic pronoun is just feminism gone wonky. Mixing the two like that is just terrible writing. I'm not surprised reading that excerpt gave you pause!

'He' as a generic pronoun IMO works perfectly fine, and probably didn't arise as a sexist thing to exclude women, but more because it worked and gender neutral pronouns didn't happen to arise. Cries of sexism seem to be winning the day though, so here's hoping people come up with something that doesn't sound ridiculously forced. I'm not holding my breath though.

OdoWanKenobi wrote: View Post
How about the fact that is is acceptable to refer to a group of females as "guys" but a single "guy" can only be male?
Probably simply because 'guys' rolls off the tongue better than 'gals'.
SilentP wrote: View Post
Really, never knew you could refer to a group of females as 'guys'. But then again, I struggle to come up with a pronoun for females around 18-24. 'Women' makes them sound too old, yet 'girls' too young. Any suggestions?
Ladies? Bitches? Hookers? Chicks? Girls is probably fine, though if there's a hardcore feminist streak amongst 'em you should probably go with women. But, it all depends on what you're going for.
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Old October 1 2009, 08:39 AM   #9
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

Depending on who might be reading what I write or post, I've come to use "s/he" a great deal.

Also, using "folks" for a mixed group seems to work fine. And they seem to like it because it's quaint enough to make them smile.

I usually use "ladies" for all-female groups of any age (little girls love it, and older women like the respect).

And I frequently use "fellas" for an all-male group.

All three words are just odd enough that they usually are liked by the people I'm using them with because they indicate a friendly and familiar tone in the way I say them.

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Old October 1 2009, 10:11 AM   #10
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

I had it pointed out to me a few days ago that my usage of the phrase "To each their own" (trying to stay gender neutral) is technically incorrect, since "each" is singular and "their" is plural.

What an odd language.
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Old October 1 2009, 10:19 AM   #11
RJDementia13
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

Language has a tendency to evolve the words it needs. In the case of the need for a gender-neutral pronoun, the word 'they' has come into use, which is perfectly appropriate, if perhaps not yet accepted in the ivory towers. The establishment always lags behind. 'He' is also acceptable, in the same sense that 'Man' or 'Mankind' is. Other invented solutions are just awkward. Alternating pronouns is inconsistent (and distracting), and 's/he' works on paper but is unpronounceable.
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Old October 1 2009, 10:23 AM   #12
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

Here's the Wikipedia article on gender-neutral pronouns. The table of invented pronouns is a laugh riot. The one I was already familiar with, hir, is probably the least silly of the options. It's probably not going to catch on, though, as it seems to be used at this point primarily by fanfic writers who use it to refer to hermaphrodite characters.
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Old October 1 2009, 10:30 AM   #13
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

That's hilarious. Equally funny is that the singular "they" has been in use since the 15th Century and yet is still being argued.
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Old October 1 2009, 11:52 AM   #14
captcalhoun
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

RJDiogenes wrote: View Post
and 's/he' works on paper but is unpronounceable.
it's pronounced 'suh-he'
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Old October 1 2009, 12:06 PM   #15
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Re: Women and the generic masculine pronoun

It's pronounced 'she he' or 'he she'. Sheesh.

'They' is completely acceptable, since the plural nature is suspended in a gender neutral situation.
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